Today I spent quite a bit of time at the Le Musée d’art contemporain in Montréal. Looking at the array of work on display, from cubist to abstract expressionist to electronic minimalist, I became acutely aware that I was being invited to participate in the addressing of various questions.

In each case, these were questions that have been under discussion for many years, between extremely thoughtful and passionate people. What does it mean to look at something? To express emotion in a non-figurative way? To examine our core assumptions about form and meaning?

Every field has its defining questions, and any particular work within that field becomes meaningful only if you catch the drift of the larger discussion. For example, if you were to attend, without any context or preparation, a major computer graphics research conference, you might not be nearly as excited as I am by what you see, because you would be unlikely to know, just by looking at the work, what ongoing questions are being addressed, or why any given result is interesting within that context.

Perhaps it is fair to say that any shared field of discourse is defined not primarily by the answers it provides, but by the questions it seeks to ask.

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